Helping Migrants Find Safe Passage

July 24, 2019

By Marianne Comfort

It’s a little before 7 in the morning, and I’m scanning the people hanging around the bus station to identify who I might want to talk with. Do they have bags for travel? Do they have tickets in their hands? Or do they look like they are instead awaiting a family member’s arrival?

Depending on the day, there might be a few individuals, a parent and child, or a whole party of relatives who look eager to greet someone. I rehearse some Spanish phrases in my mind one last time then walk over, introduce myself as a volunteer with a group helping immigrants and ask if they are waiting for the bus from the border.

I hand them a piece of paper that has phone numbers they can call for assistance with clothing, school enrollment, rides to appointments, and legal and medical information. As soon as the bus arrives, I stand back and watch the hugs, tears and photos documenting the occasion of this reunion, which are sometimes ending decades-long separations.

My participation in a nationwide network of bus greeters isn’t changing policy or the conditions of detention facilities or the anti-immigrant sentiment too common in many locales in this country. But we are letting immigrants know that they are welcome in our communities and that there are resources to help them settle in.

With the group calling themselves the “Angry Tias and Abuelas from the Rio Grande Valley” receiving the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in June, this volunteer network is getting some attention. The Texas group, named for how the founding eight women felt as aunts and grandmothers, assists migrants with the first leg of their journeys from the border to sponsors around the United States. They review bus tickets, explain often-complicated routes and alert the migrants that they can use station bathrooms and water fountains for free.

Other volunteers, among them Mercy sisters and associates, staff other bus stations, offering food and clothing for migrants at layover stops or greeting them at their final destinations. Volunteers at more southern locales alert volunteers further north of migrants who are coming their way and what needs they might have.

When I set out for a shift, my husband refers to it as my “Underground Railroad” duty, and while we aren’t in the same danger as volunteers escorting slaves to freedom before the Civil War, we practice similar precautions when assisting migrants seeking safety in new communities. For instance, we don’t publicize our activity for fear of alerting people who might want to harass new arrivals.

Not all migrants have friends or relatives meeting them. So just as I scan the bus station for possible sponsors, I also look for who is stepping off each bus. If they don’t have any bags and are clutching official-looking manila envelopes, it’s likely they’re seeking some assistance after a multi-day journey from Texas, New Mexico or Arizona. I offer them a phone to call a relative or friend, buy them some food at a nearby convenient store, or, if they are sick, consult with a doctor who is part of our network.

I have pretty limited Spanish, so I’m not able to carry on extended conversations with family members or the passengers themselves. But there are always smiles all around and expressions of “muchas gracias” that Americans would care enough to greet them and let them know that assistance is close at hand.

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  1. Jane Francisco

    God will bless your efforts.You are certainly following Catherine McAuley in her care for the poor. I encourage anyone who engages in this kind of activity to continue.

  2. Jackie Ann Moreau

    Thanks Marianne. Showing how simple signs of human care matter.

  3. Natalie Rossi

    Thank you for your efforts to make immigrants feel welcome. You have a network that is working. Many prayers ?

  4. Carolyn McDonnell

    Marianne, my heart is warmed as you write about the simple ways your network shows welcome to migrants getting off the bus that came from the border. Every little bit helps them know someone cares about them.

  5. Marion Grimes

    Kudos to you Marianne.
    Thank you for doing this for all of us women of Mercy.

  6. Susan Ryan-Anderson

    God bless you for your wonderful efforts and bringing the peace & joy of Christ to these migrants. What would Jesus do? Yes, you and your volunteer organization are doing His work & spreading the gospel! Jesus said, “I was a stranger & you welcomed me.” Thank you for this loving and merciful post!

  7. Rose Martin

    Thank you for sharing this important commitment. The simplicity yet profound importance of this work really touched me. Will hold all of this network in prayer.

  8. Doris Gottemoeller, RSM

    Thank you, Marianne. Your effort embodies the best of our Mercy tradition and charism.

  9. Eileen O'Connor

    Marianne ~ What a wonderful ministry. Thank you so much for your very faithful commitment. We’re so fortunate to have you with us! Blessings. Eileen O’Connor

  10. Catherine Walsh

    Marianne, What a beautiful article! Thank you for being part of this inspiring hospitality ministry! With gratitude & peace, Cathy Walsh (Northeast Communications)

  11. Rosemary McCloskey

    “As long as you did it to the least of my brethren you did it to Me!”
    jesus will not forget the assistance and love which you have given and are continuing to give to these poor souls who are desperate. May He grant you the strength and resources to continue with this ministry for as long as it is needed.
    I am inspired by this story Thanks.

  12. Suzanne Gallagher

    Marianne, with so much horror and bad news these days regarding treatment of our migrant brothers and sisters – it is so hopeful hear of these eruptions of goodness and kindness. What blessings you and others bring to these “stops” along their journey!

  13. Denise Boyle

    Thank you Marianne for the witness of love and friendship you are offering ‘new pilgrims’. Your smile of welcome is enough for each one to know that you are a friend, ready to assist. A wonderful and much needed ministry…..

  14. Richard Mary Burke, RSM

    Dearest Marianne,

    Thank you so much for your participation – and that of your friends in this ministry – in bringing God’s gentle care to our wounded brothers and sisters. Your reflection is heart-stirring, and I am most grateful to know of such a powerful witness in our day and time. Blessings to you and all!